Intellectual property: the basics

You are likely to own intellectual property and make use of other people’s intellectual property within your business activities. Intellectual property covers a wide range of business assets, from copyright to trade marks and patents to design rights. It’s important to protect your intellectual property rights and avoid infringing the rights of other intellectual property owners. It is highly advised that you consult and employ the services of a professional when considering registering any intellectual property. A good starting place is to contact ISIPO the Icelandic Intellectual Property Office.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property lets people own the work they create. It can be any of the following:

  • brands and logos
  • inventions
  • software
  • designs
  • music
  • books
  • poems
  • paintings
  • photography
  • other kinds of creative work

Intellectual property can be very valuable. There are businesses, such as computer games companies, that exist simply to develop intellectual property or even take advantage of it. It is important to protect your business by securing your intellectual property rights. It is equally important to avoid infringing the rights of other businesses.

How you can protect your intellectual property

There are different ways to protect your intellectual property.

Copyright is granted to the person or organisation that creates published artistic work. This includes writing, film music and computer software. Unlike most other forms of intellectual property, copyright is granted automatically when the work is first published.

Patents protect inventions, including the features and processes that make things work.

Trade marks are symbols that differentiate between goods and services and can be logos or brand names.

Designs can be protected by registering them, and through design right.

Digital intellectual property can be protected in other ways than using the law, such as encryption and using digital signatures.

Patents

Patents are a valuable form of intellectual property. If you have a patent and someone uses it without permission, you have the right to claim for compensation.

Applying for a patent can be complicated, and some products need to be protected by a number of different patents. A patent agent can help present your application and make sure you are not infringing someone else’s intellectual property rights.

You may be able to use someone else’s patent with permission.

Copyright

When you create a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic piece of work, you will be granted copyright automatically. If someone you employ creates this for you during their normal course of employment, you will own the copyright. However, the person you employ will own the copyright if an agreement has been signed that states this.

Copyright covers works such as company documentation, software, songs, original paintings, drawings or photographs. Copyright also protects sounds recordings and films.

If you own a copyright, you can decide whether to:

  • allow other businesses or people to use the copyrighted work
  • allow work to be copied, adapted, published, performed or broadcast
  • allow other businesses to use work for a royalty or licence fee
  • sell the copyright

Trade marks

Trade marks set apart your products and services as different from other suppliers. They can be signs, logos, words and names. There are rules on what can and cannot be registered as a trade mark. Trade marks are highly valuable and can be a major influence on your marketing and your recognition in the market place. It’s important to protect your own trade marks and also to avoid infringing those of other users.

Designs

In Iceland a design must be registered in order to be protected. A design is the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article. The design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape of an article, or two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color. A design must appeal to the eye. It follows that the right to a design does not protect any technical features of the article to which it is applied. A design may be protected for up to 25 years provided that the registration is renewed every five years.